Recently I encountered a stellar piece of advice that has transformed my productivity in exponential leaps and bounds:
Determine the full cycle of a task and don’t stop until you’ve completed it.
It is that simple! Often we don’t have a clear image in our mind of what the complete task actually should be. Let me give a few examples of how this works:
- Laundry: The full cycle of laundry is only completed once those clean clothes have all been put away. You’re not done when the washing machine is done. Or the dryer. Or the clothes are all (clean) in a hamper. You’re done when everything has been put away.
- Writing a report: The full cycle needs to include research, typing, editing and proofreading (yes, folks, that’s an important part of it!), and submission before the deadline. It’s not done before that.
- Travelling: The full cycle is only completed once you have unpacked and put away your luggage and your clothes are in the dirty hamper. For the more organized among us this may go even further and include putting together a packing list for the next journey.
- That empty toilet roll: No, you can’t just leave it like that. If you used the last square of paper, you have already activated the cycle and you need to complete it. And that doesn’t mean you can just put a new roll on top of the bathroom counter. You are only done when you have put the new roll into the toilet paper holder and disposed of the cardboard core. (This is applicable to anything you finish: the paper in the office photocopier or printer, the milk in the fridge, a light bulb that has gone out, fuel in your car – once something is finished, the cycle has been activated and needs to be completed.)
- Going to the doctor: The full cycle only ends once you have paid the doctor, gotten the medication from the pharmacy, paid the pharmacist, and – if need be – put reminders in your phone or calendar for when to actually take the medication.
- Using equipment: Whether you are mowing the lawn, crafting, putting up a picture, taking photographs, making dinner, the rule is the same: the cycle is only completed once you have put away everything again.
Almost everything we touch in our lives consists of cycles. And the beautiful thing is that, as we grow, those cycles grow, too. You can start with a short cycle, and as you become more au fait in this, add on to it.
It has been truly empowering for me to realize this, especially since I can get a bit distracted sometimes, touching and going, and forgetting what I had been busy with. Or just not plain thinking. But I can tell you from the toilet paper situation in my and friends’ homes that clearly I am not the only one who needs this epiphany.
Viewing tasks in terms of full cycles brings with it the immense reward of a feeling of freedom and completeness. There is deep satisfaction in knowing you’re done with this one thing. It has been taken care of, all the loose ends have been tied up, you are free to move on to the next step.
For me, that means there is one less process that is open in my brain, slowing down my processing speed. I can use that released space for something more important. And next time I come into the bathroom and see the toilet paper, I think: ‘Yep! Nailed it!’
It’s the little things that make the biggest difference!